Tuesday, March 25, 2014

 In Memoriam:

Esther Higgins

              Human Being Extraordinaire

There was absolutely nothing half-hearted about Esther Higgins. It seemed that she was constitutionally incapable of holding back in extension of her loving nature. We know that her beloved Martin, husband of over 50 years, might be able to give evidence to the contrary and perhaps her children too. There must have been moments of temper, frustration, and sadness. But her friends, neighbors, parish community, staff and most especially the students at Linden Avenue Middle School saw her only as the most generous, caring, hardworking, perpetually positive and frequently laughing person ever.
Large institutions - businesses, hospitals, and schools at every level - are often overwhelming and in spite of being service oriented entities can seem the very opposite for many individuals. Relief can come in the presence of a person, often not a professional, who by virtue of her humanity and personality, can provide the beating generous, sympathetic heart of the place. This is the person who can miraculously break the tension, restore confidence, heal crushed hearts, and remind one person at a time and face to face that they are good and valuable. This was Esther Higgins' role at Linden Avenue School. Thus Esther cannot simply be described as a school secretary or aide. Esther was a genius at educational facilitation. One could observe her defusing the temper and resentment of a student arriving at school within minutes of an upsetting incident at home. This spared some teacher the task of having to settle down a whole class if the fuse was still afire at first period bell. The guidance counselor had an informal assistant in Esther who in little but oh so meaningful ways could provide follow-up by a brief daily check in with a youngster who needed support and to know that somebody really cared. She was informal counsel, second mother, confidante, ego and self-confidence builder for students, and some adult staff members too. And the adults knew that she could be counted upon to facilitate a solution to any scheduling foul up, to find those missing supplies, to be there when needed. Principals could come and go but support staff such as Esther remained to provide continuity in their knowledge of how things really worked, what kids needed, and to be the smiling face and pleasant voice of the front office.
I met Esther in 1980. The fact that I had known Esther for a long time was always a surprise to Red Hook folk. Esther and I had a little secret between us. We both participated I in an At Home Retreat sponsored By Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck. We were 13 women meeting once a week for 13 weeks led by a religious sister and a married woman. We came as women of faith wanting to have that faith enriched. Esther and I both came with great pain weighing upon us. I was to learn of the recent death of her son Marty and she would learn of the creeping deterioration of my marriage. Women are relationship people and Esther was more so, even in the depth of her personal grief. She made a special trip to my Kingston home to gift my son with a copy of Shel Silverstine's book "The Giving Tree" to mark his First Communion. When Don Germaine introduced me to his office staff in 1990 Esther and I just looked at each other. The ties formed by our deeply shared experience years before shot between us with magnetic force. We knew lots about each other that was not public knowledge. We had a bond.
St. Francis of Assisi is said to have given this advice to his confreres. "Preach the Gospel. Use words if you must." In these terms Esther was the supreme teacher. She spoke of God as pure love. She acted as if it was her obligation to demonstrate that truth. While very devout, she did not preach with words. Her pulpit was any human situation in which she found herself. She exercised the priesthood of her baptism by befriending, helping, joking, listening, healing, laughing and, on many days, just plain working hard.
To write this is an inadequate redundancy. Those who never met Esther cannot really image this person and for those who did, my description is unnecessary. They were given the blessing of knowing Esther. My human heart has been sad these days and writing here has helped my grief. But my soul is rejoicing. Esther is in the embrace of God. She has the ear of God and will undoubtedly be offering what would be best for those she loved and left behind.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

 In Stitches:
The Knitter's Life
Logo for www.Ravelry.com
A simply fabulous site for knitters -
the very best
Time to remind you that I am a constant knitter these days. I observed knitters from the beginning of my life. How I wish I could talk to those knitters today: my father's step-mother and the only Grandma I knew, my Aunt Mille who could knit  on the subway in the rush hour with long needles tucked under her arms and my mother who is still with me but cannot remember the fabulous knitting she once enjoyed.  I learned to knit at the age of ten. Attacked it seriously when I was in high school and more seriously in college. And the story goes on. Of course, I am still a quilter. But at this stage of the game I have realistically given up those other crafts that once consumed me (painting porcelain dolls, basket weaving, needlepoint, crewel, wax resist dyed Easter eggs and even macramé years ago). I guess it could be said that there are only a few crafts that I have been able to resist. One is weaving. I never had the money for it nor the space required for a good loom. But I do still spin when I can find the time.
Wool and synthetic blend bandana
silk and mohair lace scarf
Now I want to fill you in on what I have been doing lately. The work produces both the cutest little things for my baby grand-daughter and much more for our on-line monastery shop
The proceeds from the shop are used to support our senior sisters. All items are handmade by contemplative nuns in our monastery. The site currently includes a few hand quilted items and a hand painted icon depicting Jesus.
Silver grey lace shawl below is first attempt at BOO Designs shawl with beading. Yarn is Italian wool and silk blend. Light as a feather. This was achieved with a great deal of on-line assistance from the great people who populate www.Ravelry.com

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday - 2014

A Fitting Sacrifice

Let a crushed heart and spirit
Mean as much as countless offerings...
Let this be our sacrifice today...
Our hearts are completely yours.  Daniel3:39-41, ICEL Translation

Early Boomers like myself are easily brought back in memory to Ash Wednesdays of the distant past. I remember lengthy conversations among the numerous girls on my block in Brooklyn. We debated the comparative value of our planned Lenten sacrifices. The list could include: no gum, no candy, no TV, daily Mass, the Stations every week, total cooperation with and obedience to our parents. Perhaps this habit of picking a good Lenten sacrifice lingers with you too. I would like to suggest here that a good choice might be not to pick a practice at all. Is it really necessary to conjure a new something to do or a new something to give up? Is it possible that the most honest, heartfelt and generous practice would be to cultivate a new awareness and a new attitude toward what already makes our lives difficult? Could we practice the grace-filled art of giving new meaning to that which is difficult or painful, that which God has placed in our lives?

Henry David Thoreau wrote,  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  We may not all have live lives of quiet desperation but each person has struggles, anxieties, compulsions, problems that weigh one down; pain, sorrow, grief, or illness in body, mind or spirit. Some live in constant danger or uncertainty or the persistent lack of some essential need whether it be remunerative work, money to pay the bills or unconditional love and personal regard. And some bear daily in their hearts a constant concern for a loved one whose illness is beyond their control to relieve or cure. The list of what may make life difficult, of what may be a constant cross, goes on and on. Even when we create our gratitude lists that very act acknowledges the shadow of what we cannot be grateful for, of what we must endure.

This morning Father Richard Smith, pastor of St. Joachim - St. John the Evangelist Parish here in Beacon, NY, retold the story of St. Francis of Assisi who heard a message from God saying, "Rebuild my Church." Francis took the words literally and set about the arduous work of physically rebuilding a church. Later he realized how his literal interpretation may have come from his own grandiosity. Rather than doing physical work with brick and mortar he was to embody in his behavior the proper attitude of the Church, the attitude of Jesus. He demonstrated this understanding when he met the leper on the road. This was a leper whom he had been taught was disgusting, repulsive and dangerous. This was the leper whom he saw frequently along the road and sought to avoid at all cost. But this time, upon seeing the leper on the road, he went to him and embraced him. Francis embraced the leper and kissed his wound.

Whatever the particulars of  "quiet desperation" in our lives; what we already endure can be the locus of our Lenten sacrifice. We do not have to invent a penance of our own choosing. In the very inventing we express our egoistic need to be in control, to know better than God. By embracing the leper which is our own "quiet desperation" we embrace what, by the Will of God, is present in our daily reality. Instead of pushing it away, of fighting it and resenting it, we can touch it and examine it. We can prayerfully commit to a previously unreached level of acceptance, to greater self-awareness of our struggle. We may even be moved to the penitential practice of seeking help along the way.

Even if we have already accepted these "desperations", close examination can bring us to greater appreciation of the worthiness of our endurance, of its great value as an offering to God. Rather than making ourselves feel guilty because a better person would not have these struggles and burdens we can embrace them and acknowledge them as something beautiful for God.

In today's Gospel (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18) Jesus said, "When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." What has been presented here is subject matter for your secret whispers in prayer; prayer that is talk of what is real, what is "fitting sacrifice" from the substance of your daily life. The last step is to unite it with the suffering Christ, totally rejected with his flesh nailed into the wood of the cross. To the suffering of this Jesus unite your own examined, accepted, and even embraced, "quiet desperations" for the salvation of the world.